Welcome to Zenitude’s blog where you can follow us while we travel slow in our Lagoon catamaran. We update this blog frequently when we are cruising to let family and friends know where we are. Check the complete story of our adventures that started in 2006 when Zenitude became our home and cruising our way of life. Graciela and Oscar

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

A windy week in the Whitsundays before heading to Maggie

Ready to leave Mackay we kept waiting for a nice week of calm sunny weather to spend time around the Whitsundays. What we were getting was beautiful sunny days with strong winds or nice calm days with lots of rain, So, we waited, we were not in a hurry.

All in vain, there seemed to be no change in the weather pattern and finally we left on the 5th of July when forecast showed 3 reasonable days ahead with a strong southerly change arriving on the early hours of the 4th day.  This was good enough to get going, enjoy a bit of time at the islands and find cover to hide from the strong winds.

We headed to Shaw Island where finally were able to install our re-vamped sail bag back in place on a very quiet morning. With no wind it was easy to raise the full main sail at anchor and attach the bag properly to the boom, refit the lazy jacks and reef lines and then drop the main sail nicely in place.  It was still hard work and it took us about 4 hours to get it all done.

Looking at the weather forecast and seeing the strong southerly change winds would arrive in the middle of the night we decided to hide in Hamilton Marina. Good decision. When the winds arrived, at 4:00 in the morning we were tightly docked and secure. Later on a fellow cruiser that took refugee in Mackay Marina reported wind gusts of over 50 knots at the docks when the front was passing.
Zenitude in Hamilton Marina


It was a windy week in the Whitsundays and at the end it was time to move on. Our next destination is Townsville where we are receiving old friends from overseas in August. With that in mind we departed on the 14th of July with great weather for the trip north.

We sailed short legs to places we've been before. The first stop was Gloucester Island but rather than stopping in the south of the island nearby the resorts as we've done several times we decided to try the northwest part of the island. Our cruising guide mentions this as a popular spot for fishing trawlers but it is isolated and the only trawler that was there left before sunset. The place was all to ourselves. The guide also mentions this area is prone to wind 'bullets', this is wind that accelerates as it comes down from the mountain.  I must say the guide is right, not likely we'll try that anchorage again. We were lucky that eventually the wind completely died and we had a good night of sleep.

At first light the next day we sailed towards Cape Upstart and the day after to Cape Bowling Green. Two great stops on the way north. It was great to confirm that with the new engines and the calm weather we could have skipped the second stop and reach our final destination with enough daylight even in these short daylight days. We couldn't have done that with the old engines. However, Cape Bowling Green looked so appealing in the beautiful sunny day that we decided to stop there anyway and enjoy the afternoon.

At anchor in Cape Bowling Green

The sun smiles before disappearing in Cape Bowling Green 
We woke up at 6:00 AM for the final leg towards Magnetic Island to find a thick fog with no visibility. As there were north easterlies in the forecast for the afternoon we decided to go anyway hoping the fog would raise with the sun. It was the strangest thing, as soon as we started moving we left the fog behind, it seemed that the fog wast just over the inside of the cape.

Before noon we were approaching Magnetic Island (Maggie for the locals) and soon after we arrived at Horseshoe Bay. We found the familiar place as beautiful as ever, dropped anchor and relaxed, planning to be here for quite some time.

A perfect day at Horseshoe Bay


A perfect sunset at Maggie
G.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Back on board and ready to head north

We are back from our land travels and after almost a month getting Zenitude ready we are about to start our way up north towards Townsville and eventually Cairns.

The main project this time was the installation of new solar panels. After a good analysis we decided that new and more powerful solar panels would be better than getting a new wind generator, these have given us enough problems already and we feel like giving up on them. We have to wait and see how we go with power this season. 

But most of our time was spent refitting everything we removed to prevent damage if a cyclone hit during our time away. Incredible how much work that was, not surprising though, always when you do work on a boat new tasks that usually can't wait, somehow appear. For example, after removing everything that had been stored in the guest head (bimini, jib, etc.) I found a hatch handle on the floor, sure enough one of the small hatches had given up. This meant another week while waiting for a replacement hatch to arrive. The last big job, when we thought  we were done and were getting the main sail ready again, we found the sail bag needed patch up, the Velcro that keeps it shut had almost completed disintegrated and needed replacement. This plus other bit and pieces took 3 extra days of sewing. Sail bag is now ready but we have been waiting for several days to get a brake in the wind so that we can put it back in place.


Going back on the water

Going down and into a marina berth with perfect weather while we work ...

Finally it seems we are ready, just waiting for the miserable weather to give us a break so we can set sail and get on our way.
G.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Cyclone Season - Zenitude stays in Mackay

When we left the Gold Coast at the end of September our plans were to come back in December and spend cyclone season around there. Somewhere along the way plans changed and we decided to leave Zenitude well tied to the ground in Mackay as we did once before. The thinking was to be closer to Cairns for next season as we won't be able to start our sailing before June.

With that in mind we left Hamilton Island marina with no real hurry. The wind was blowing at about 20 knots and we moved only 10 miles south to Shaw Island where we spent the night in a beautiful and well  protected anchorage. The holding is excellent in about 5 to 8 meters, several boats where already there when we arrived.
Shaw Island



Next day we moved a little bit further south to our usual spot in Brampton, getting ready for the short sail to Mackay Marina the next day. With that our sailing for 2017 was over. 

We spent several weeks preparing Zenitude for cyclone season and soon the day came when she was taken out of the water and deposited in her new dry space. All stuff from the deck was then stored away, main sail wrapped around, bimini and jib removed and stored away, The straps to hold her to the ground were installed. Finally, with our bags packed for a season on land we left her there, hoping she doesn't have to face a cyclone.






We'll be back around June, there will be no blogs until then.

G.



Saturday, 17 February 2018

Mackay to Hamilton Island - Welcoming friends from another time

3/11/2017 to 15/11/2017

There is one anchorage in Brampton Island for almost any kind of wind just 20 miles away from Mackay. Usually this is our first stop when leaving Mackay and this time was not different. We left  the marina just before noon, after finishing all last minute preparations, which included a stop at the fuel dock as we were hoping for good weather to go to one of the reefs nearby.

With light winds from the south east it took us about 4 hours to get there running just one engine with a good current in our favor.

Next day we moved on to Goldsmith Island. We chose the north anchorage that has an easier approach  and good space to anchor. Just two other boats were there and we spent a couple of lovely days.

Goldsmith Island

Sunset at anchor

It's a full moon night

Then the northerlies showed up in the forecast and we moved a bit further north to Plantation in Lindeman Island, a great anchorage protected from northerly winds. There were several boats there, it felt a little crowded, not surprising as we were now in full 'Whitsundays Charter' area.

Plantation, Lindeman Island

Welcome Swallows (not really welcome on board but too cute to scare them away)




Another nice couple of days until the wind turned again to the SE and the forecast started showing strong wind warnings in what seemed to be duration: indefinitely. 

We left Lindeman and decided to go to Hamilton Marina to wait for the arrival of our friends. Due to the weather we ended up in the marina two days earlier than planned, it was a good measure as the strong wind arrived that night.

Two days later, while the weather was still wild, arrived our friends Maggie and Roy as expected. They came in a tour to Australia and New Zealand all the way from Canada. We met them on another time, another world when we were sailing the Caribbean and they were in their boat Drum. We were part of a group that sailed together to survive Venezuela's increasing piracy threats back in 2008. Since then Venezuela has deteriorated further year after year, a real shame as the off shore islands are amazingly beautiful cruising grounds (our adventures at that time recorded in: http://www.bluewaterdreaming.com/zen/isla_tortuga.html).

We hadn't seen Maggie and Roy for several years but we had always kept in touch, so we were thrilled when they announced they were coming all the way from Canada to visit Australia. It was unfortunate for them that the wind didn't ease during their stay, even when Maggie had promised to bring the sun with her. Sailing out of the protection in the marina would have been miserable. It was a collective decision to even don't bother trying. They are sailors as well and knew it wasn't worth the trouble.

With so many wonderful places to go around the Withsundays it was a real shame to be tucked in the marina. Nevertheless we hope they had a good time as Hamilton is rather a nice place to be trapped in.

Roy and Maggie
With Maggie

Stuck in Hamilton Marina
Oscar and I did have a great time catching up with them and we sadly said farewells 3 days later with promises of meeting again when we visit Canada or maybe somewhere else around this small world.

A day after they left the weather started a new improving trend and we left the marina, this time south bound.

G.


  

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

From Bundaberg to Mackay

14/10/2017 to 26/10/2017

Bundaberg to Great Keppel Island


We found ourselves once more in a marina, this time in Bundaberg Port Marina, waiting for a very busy mechanic, who finally made it at the last hour on Friday. He confirmed our suspicion, port engine was quite healthy, just receiving a wrong signal, it was not a heating problem. He gave us the blessing needed for the Volvo warranty to stay valid. We could keep going rather than waiting in Bundaberg, nobody knew how long could take to find the problem.

Next day we were underway again thinking to look back into the problem in Mackay but even with the assurance that all was good, Oscar could be seen more than once with the little gauge he uses to measure engine  temperature while the engine was happily running. 

The two engines did run all day on that Saturday while making our way towards Great Keppel in stormy weather, lots of rain but no wind. It took us just under 18 hours to get there, at an average speed of 7.5 knots with just 2,000 reps, we could never do that well under engine before the upgrade.

We arrived at night, with a starry sky and no moon. We could see lots of lights from the boats at anchor and decided to drop ours far away from them, in case there were some with no lights. There is no problem whatsoever arriving in this bay, Svendsen Beach, at night, it is big and the holding is great. A squall came just after we finished anchoring, what a good feeling to have arrived, all was very quiet soon and we went to sleep.

In the morning, in between squalls, we moved closer to the beach.

Squally weather in Svendsen beach, Great Keppel

The weather kept deteriorating day after day, what left us pinned on board, only boats with dogs where visiting the shore, on a wet dinghy, twice a day, riding a happy dog. This anchorage can get very rolly and boats started to move around the corner, to Fisherman Beach, in the hope that was better there. Which it was, we found out when we finally moved, still roll and roll, but less wind. This is also a nice anchorage, just across from the resort.

Fisherman Beach, Great Keppel

Rolling at anchor for a week


We needed to keep going and after 6 days of misery the weather finally improved a little bit, so we headed to Rosslyn Bay to get fuel and provisions. We like the marina there, Keppel Bay Marina, but this time we just stayed for one day. They offer a courtesy car, which we had booked in advance to go shopping in Yeppoon. Very handy.

Great Keppel to Pearl Bay


Next stop was Pearl Bay, this is a very pretty, very protected anchorage and having left Rosslyn Bay just before sunrise we arrived in good time to have a quiet lunch at anchor. A different kind of seagull came to visit, for sure suspecting it was a good time to get some lunch. Captain Oscar, who is not very much impressed by seagulls, sent a clear message but it took a while to convince this one that there was no welcome committee and definitely no lunch, snack or anything of the kind.





Pearl Bay to Hunter Island

Another early start and we arrived to Hunter in about six hours. When we left Pearl Bay the tide was at its very low, which is not a good thing as there are several shallow areas with rocky bottom. In our way out we almost run out of water in one place, panic setting in, looking at the depth sounder a quick glimpse showed a sudden drop from 3 meters to almost no meters (90 cm) and then up again. Zenitude considers there is not enough water for her if depth sounder shows less than 70 cm. This was close. A little later, going really slow we were out with no further panic events. It keeps you thinking how quickly your day can go all wrong. Pearl Bay is protected, which makes it a good anchorage but it's isolated. There is no VHF signal to call for help and neither there is phone or internet coverage.

Hunter is part of the Duke Group, a very pretty set of islands, most with fringing reef and very clear waters. Navigating between the islands in the group is spectacular but requires extreme care. This is a nice stop in settled weather but not as popular as nearby Percy Group and we spent a peaceful day, nobody else was there. Surprisingly a group of  young deer came for a walk on the beach just before sunset, the last thing we were expecting to see in an island near the  Queensland coast was baby deer wondering in a pristine beach surrounded by turquoise water.

Hunter Island

The Duke Group
It was a perfect day weather wise but when I woke up next morning and stepped out in the cockpit I had a weary feeling, it was very calm in a heavy atmosphere, it didn't feel right. Soon after breakfast we heard thunders far away, the horizon to the south west was very black, scary black. Surely that is not coming this way,  was Oscar's reassurance with really no base, just a wishful thought. VHF was on and an official warning was issued for this storm cell traveling in a northeasterly direction. Just to confirm, thunders could now be heard much closer. We were in the storm path. Another VHF message, this time a boat at anchor in the south was reporting the storm had just passed with 50 kn winds, heavy rain, luckily short lived.

So now we knew what to expect. An emergency meeting was held in Zenitude, it was time for a quick decision, raise anchor and go to deeper waters to wait for the storm to pass or stay put and trust our anchor would not drag. The wind was going to push us against shore and the fringing reef was not that far, we had gone to the process of raising anchor while dragging in a squall and for sure we were not looking forward to this scenario in this place. Let's go, we both agreed, turning instruments and engines on in a hurry,  But we were too late, just then the front hit, Oscar remained on the helm, ready in case we started dragging. We had sustained wind at 30 knots gusting 40, and a curtain of rain coming sideways, lightning all around to complete the picture. It was all over in 10 minutes. It was our time now to report on the VHF as the storm passed heading towards the Percy islands. We knew there were several boats there, they had time to raise anchor and were underway when the storm reached them.

At 8:00 am it was all over and we left for the 40 miles towards Digby Island.           

Hunter Island to Mackay

Finally good weather and we had three beautiful days, sailing short legs and stopping at Digby, Scawfell and lovely Brampton islands before making our way into Mackay Marina.  It was time to go back to marina life and get ready for sailing around Whitsundays.

G.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

From the Great Sandy Strait to Bundaberg

05/10/2017 to 14/10/2017

Tin Can Bay


A day after crossing Wide Bay Bar and after a very restful night at anchor in Pelican Bay we headed south this time, through the inlets, towards Tin Can Bay marina, just 8 miles away. The scenery in the inlets is beautiful and the marina surprised us as well.  For some reason we were not expecting such a great modern marina and wondered why we hadn’t visited before.




Tin Can Bay Marina

Just a short walk from the marina is the Norman Point boat ramp. This is the place where humpback dolphins visit daily. At around 7:00 to 8:00 AM, almost every morning of the year, the dolphins come to claim their fishy breakfast. A team of volunteers runs the operation and allow people to feed the dolphins. They are careful to limit the amount of fish they offer so that the dolphins don’t become dependent.

Needless to say next day we were arriving at the dolphins’ feed encounter just before 7:00 am. There we found the Barnacles Cafe, strategically positioned to serve the small crowd that was already queuing for the event. At that point we found many people, Zenitude’s crew included, anxiously watching at sea where there were no dolphins in sight. Lots of birds were gathering as well to participate in the fishy feast. It was not long until one by one the dolphins started to arrive.

In the meantime we decided to buy a fish each to personally feed one dolphin and yes, it is just 1 fish allowed per person as this is the way they control how much food the dolphins get, letting everyone that came to have a go. 

We were instructed to keep a hand on top of the bucket, soon we found out why. A bird, obviously a first timer for the event, decided to give a go at stilling a fish from a bucket and he (or she) was immediately caught by one of the volunteers and taken to jail (a bird cage at hand). It was an impressive skill by this lady volunteer. All the other birds knew better and stay put just watching the fun.

It is all very well organized with the dolphins in mind, first you quickly sterilize your hands, then you get the fish bucket, then you are directed into the water where a volunteer is waiting for you, finally you feed a very gentle and polite dolphin that carefully takes the fish from your hand. What a notable experience!

The Birds



Just caught!



Going to jail

 Feeding the dolphins





Great Sandy Strait


After doing all the little chores you do in a marina we left to continue our way North. It was all slow going as we did three short legs up Fraser Island coast until we arrived at the King Fisher Resort on the other side of the Great Sandy Strait. 

We did a strategic stop at Gary’s Anchorage. This strategy has to do with tides. There is a very shallow area in the Great Sandy Strait as well as strong tidal currents that change directions where the shallows are. So the best strategy is to go with a rising tide, cross the shallow area close to the high tide and then keep going with the changing tide on the other side. This all works pretty well as long as you don’t run aground in the high tide. 


All quiet in Gary's anchorage


The sail on the Great Sandy Strait was uneventful, not so the King Fisher Resort stopover. About one hour after dropping anchor, very black clouds were fast approaching from the south west. A quick look at weather warnings confirmed what seemed to be coming towards us: a strong wind and dangerous thunderstorms over Fraser Island. 

We were too close to shore for comfort on strong south westerlies and decided to raise anchor and ride the squall in deeper waters. So did the catamaran next to us who instead anchored in deeper waters away from the coast. We waited to see what the squall was doing, nothing good by the sound of thunders but luckily it just passed to the east. It seemed to have passed just on top of Gary’s anchorage and we were happy to have missed it. 

King Fisher Resort on the background

Bundaberg


Next day we left at first light, which is just 5:00 am this time of year. We left without having decided whether to stop at Bundaberg 55 miles away, just a day trip, or keep going to Great Keppel Island arriving sometime in the middle of the night. 

By noon we were getting close to Bundaberg when Zenitude made the decision for us, port engine was behaving quite weird, claiming to be overheating when clearly it wasn’t. As the engines were still under warranty a quick call to Volvo Penta confirmed there is an authorized representative in Bundaberg. If we missed Bundaberg, next one is either Gladstone or Mackay. Just in case it wasn’t a case of a bad tempered engine behavior we ended up in Bundaberg marina, where we arrived early afternoon having navigated Hervey Bay from the south to the north end without having sighted a single whale. Another sign we were kind of late in the season.   


G. 

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Traveling North in South Queensland

From 30/09/2017 to 08/10/2017 - Gold Coast to Fraser Island

It was the last day of September when we finally untied Zenitude from the marina docks in Coomera and started our trip north along the Queensland coast. We’ve been pondering for almost a week, while watching the forecast, whether we should take the course out the Seaport Seaway directly to Mooloolaba in open seas or should we do the inside channels through to Moreton Bay.

At this time of the year most people had already started their trip south, this is the season when the usually constant SE winds disappear, giving way to the northerlies. We were not with the southbound crowds, we were going north and hoping for a late arrival of the northerlies, predictable, as soon as we decided we are ready to leave, the northerlies arrived. 

The weather became quite unstable, the forecast models wouldn’t agree between them and most of the time they were completely off . The result was that we were changing our minds twice a day on what route to take, over analysing forecasts just after each new forecast was issued. Hopelessly weather obsessed. At the end we decided to ignore forecasters and stick with the inside route, which would give us more options to react to changing forecasts.

Leaving Coomera and sailing up the river we headed north thru the winding, sometimes shallow channels. It paid to leave at dawn as it was all very quiet. By early afternoon we arrived at our first stop, the Tangalooma Wrecks, where we decided to spend the night. It was just motoring for this trip and Zenitude did well with the new engines. The anchorage was packed, which was totally expected, after all that preparation we had finally left on a Saturday of a long Queensland weekend, but then we found a good spot to anchor and were happy to be finally “on the move”. 

Coomera River - Leaving Gold Coast City Marina after a long stay

Tangalooma Wrecks on a long weekend

Sunset at Tangalooma Wrecks

Moreton Island beaches
After a quiet night, it was another pre-sunrise start when we left towards Moololaba. Early in the morning of this long weekend we could see boats at anchor all along Moreton Island, we realised then that there are many anchorages protected from easterly winds, even though you need to be ready to raise anchor and go if a strong westerly turns up, sometimes making a sudden appearance just before sunrise. Of course the same can be said of Tangalooma where the wrecks had been strategically placed to create a protected ‘harbour’, however the wrecks don’t really stop the havoc created by the westerlies, the outcome accomplished, apart from interesting snorkeling, is to make it harder for a vessel to leave in a hurry.

Passing near the tip of Moreton Island we were curious to have a peek at Cape Moreton. There is an anchorage called Yellow Patch, which we were considering as a night stop if taking the ocean route. We couldn’t find much information about it with the locals at Gold Coast, nobody had been there and now we could see why, it looked very exposed to the weather, in a day when everyone was in the water, that anchorage was empty. We quickly scrapped it from our list of safe places. 

The early start paid off again and we arrived in Mooloolaba just in time to have a quiet lunch at anchor. We had no wind for the trip, and motored happily with the new engines that where giving us around 2 knots more than the old ones without much effort.  The wind did arrive a little later but from the wrong direction. The stormy weather kept us at anchor in the Mooloolah River with not much to do, except resting (no complains) and checking forecast twice daily. The next leg was tricky as involved crossing the Wide Bay Bar, which requires calm weather and careful timing for the right tides if you want to avoid an exhilarating surfing experience while attempting to enter the harbour.  

Oscar chose the weather window as I was catatonic with indecision. We left again before sunrise 3 days after our arrival. Sadly we couldn’t catch up with Eduardo and family as our stop was not long enough to manage meeting them, so we said good bye over the phone this time. The skies were full of clouds but weather was very calm. There was a 1.5 meters northeasterly swell, which made for an interesting exit thru the shallow bar at Mooloolaba .  

The swell kept diminishing slowly during the morning and it was quite calm when approaching the bar at the southern end of Fraser Island. Throughout the years shoaling in the bar keeps moving around, with the result that entry waypoints were not helping much any longer. This year the waypoints have been updated following a long lasting survey of the shoaling. 

We found the conditions quite reasonable, with current, wind and swell running in the same and favourable direction, pushing Zenitude fast and steady, at least torture was short lived. Low tide had been at 14:34, we entered with the flood at 16:30, the lowest mark on our depth sounder was 4.00 meters and the swell was just about 1 meter with no breaking waves to be seen. After so much worrying from my part, the bar crossing was quite reasonable indeed, Oscar could be seen with a happy smile having chosen the right window. 

Once inside we decided we would anchor in Pelican Bay for the night and visit Tin Can Bay next, as we’ve never been there before. It was time to visit the resident dolphins. But this is a story for next blog.

Arriving at Pelican Bay after crossing WBB
Pelican Bay 
 G.